US pledges $100M to back proposed Kenyan-led multinational force to Haiti
The Biden administration pledged $100 million on Friday to support a proposed Kenyan-led multinational force to restore security to conflict-ravaged Haiti and urged other nations to make similar contributions.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. would provide logistics, including intelligence, airlift, communications and medical support to the mission, which still needs to be approved by the U.N. Security Council. Other than Kenya, which would head the operation, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda have pledged to deploy personnel.
Blinken urged the international community to pledge additional personnel as well as equipment, logistics, training and funding for the effort to be successful.
“The people of Haiti cannot wait much longer,” he told foreign minister colleagues from more than 20 countries that have expressed support for the mission.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry echoed Blinken's urgency, telling the U.N. General Assembly on Friday that police and military personnel are needed, and that the use of force “remains essential to create an environment in which the state can function again.”
He noted that crimes committed by gangs include “kidnapping, pillaging, fires, the recent massacres, sexual and sexist violence, organ trafficking, human trafficking, homicides, extrajudicial executions, the recruitment of child soldiers (and) the blocking of main roads.”
“Democracy is at peril. Our country needs a return to normalcy,” Henry said.
Blinken said it was imperative for the Security Council to authorize the mission to Haiti as quickly as possible so the force could be operational in the next several months. He stressed, however, that international assistance could be only one part of Haiti’s recovery from years of corruption, lawlessness, gang violence and political chaos.
“Improved security must be accompanied by real progress to resolve the political crisis,” he said. “The support mission will not be a substitute for political progress."
In his speech, Haiti's prime minister pledged to hold elections “as soon as practically possible." He said that, in the coming days, he would take the steps necessary for electoral consensus with support from the international community and keep speaking with all political actors and civil society leaders.
Blinken also hosted a closed-door meeting Friday to talk about Haiti, the needs for the proposed Kenyan mission and the outcome of a trip to Haiti that top Kenyan officials made in August. More than 30 countries attended the meeting, and at least 11 of them made concrete commitments of support, according to a U.S. senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
It wasn't clear what kind of support was pledged, and the official did not comment on where China and Russia stand regarding a possible U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize the Kenyan mission.
On Wednesday, Kenyan President William Ruto said his country was committed to leading a multinational force in Haiti to quell gang violence as he established diplomatic ties with the Caribbean country. The U.S. has said it would submit a U.N. resolution authorizing such a mission, but not timetable has been set as international leaders and U.N. officials urge immediate action, noting that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry made the request for an immediate deployment of a foreign armed force in October.
“The safety, the security, the future of the Haitian people and people across the region depend on the urgency of our action,” Blinken said.
Kenya’s offer to lead a multinational force has been met with some skepticism from Haitians and Kenyans alike.
Gang violence has surged in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas in recent months, with 1,860 people reported killed, injured or kidnapped from April to June, a 14% increase compared with the first three months of the year, according to the latest U.N. statistics.
“Criminals feel that they are all powerful, and this is unacceptable,” Henry said.
Gangs have overwhelmed Haiti's National Police, which is under-resourced and understaffed, with roughly 10,000 active officers for a country of more than 11 million people.
Gangs are now estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince and have grown more powerful since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Nearly 200,000 Haitians have been forced to flee their homes as gangs pillage communities and rape and kill people living in areas controlled by rival gangs, a tenfold increase in the past two years, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
More than 20,000 displaced Haitians are living in crumbling and unhygienic shelters where gangs prey on young children and try to recruit them. Henry noted that the country's extreme poverty, with about 60% of the population earning less than $2 a day, is prompting people to join gangs.
“It is fertile land for recruitment,” he said.
Gangs also have seized control of key roads leading into Haiti's northern and southern regions, disrupting the distribution of food as Haiti this year joined Somalia and other countries already facing or projected to face starvation. More than 4 million people in Haiti are experiencing high levels of acute hunger, and 1.4 million are at emergency levels, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
“I call for support," Henry said, “so that we may turn the page on this dark time in our history.”